Morgan Price | Staff Writer
There may be three pitchers in North Texas softball’s bullpen now, but next season, only one of them will be returning. With seniors Jessica Elder and Stacey Underwood graduating next month, sophomore Lauren Craine will be the lone pitcher remaining when the offseason begins and until new recruits are brought in.
Just last year, Craine was a wide-eyed freshman that hung on Underwood and Elder’s every word. With two upperclassmen mentoring Craine, she grew up quick. Craine has increased her win total from one to four with two weeks remaining this season.
And she never forgets how she got here.
“[Elder] taught me a new change up. [Underwood] has helped me stay confident,” Craine said. “Seeing them go out there confidently has helped me.”
Craine’s standout game this season came on March 25 against the University of Texas at San Antonio when she threw a complete game shutout. She needed only 94 pitches to get through 7.0 innings, scattering seven hits while never allowing the Roadrunners to scratch across a run.
Craine attributes most of her performance in the circle to her confidence, and moving forward, knows it is something she has to maintain. With the possibility she may be the only upperclassman in the pitching rotation next year, Craine will soon have to take over the leadership role held by Underwood and Elder.
“If she continues on the course that she currently is, she can definitely be an impact player,” head coach Tracey Kee said.
In her freshman season, Craine made five starts in 28 appearances, pitching a total of 63.1 innings.
This year, 11 of her 19 appearances have been starts. She’s tossed three complete games and has almost doubled her strikeout count from 16 to 30.
“I feel like last year I didn’t really know what to expect coming in,” Craine said. “I gave up a lot of hits and I didn’t really know much about my motion. I’ve learned to trust my body, instead of trying too hard to throw a pitch and overthink it.”
Craine spent a majority of the offseason changing her pitching motion and focusing on spinning the ball. Much like a breaking ball in baseball, spinning the ball in softball makes it more difficult for hitters to time their swings and make contact, ultimately leading to more strikeouts.
Her improvement has not gone unnoticed.
“Her balls look really good, which makes a hitter want to hit it,” Underwood said. “[But] then it has great late movement and they can’t hit it. And when they do [make contact], it doesn’t go anywhere. She has such great command of her pitches. I think that makes her special.”
Conference play has been a strong point for Craine throughout the season. While her ERA in C-USA is 5.00 — slightly above average — two of her three starts have been complete games. With only three pitchers on staff, going late into games was something Kee hoped Craine would be able to do before the season started.
Before playing the University of Southern Mississippi on April 8, the Mean Green had been undefeated in conference play at home. And while they dropped game two of the doubleheader, North Texas eventually won the series with a 9-6 victory in game three.
In the finale, all three pitchers made appearances in the circle, with Craine pitching 1.0 inning and giving up one run on two hits.
“[The series against Southern Mississippi] felt like a big turning point for me,” Craine said. “Last year we had trouble with conference and we weren’t confident. I personally didn’t have the strongest weekend in the circle but our pitching staff and offense worked well to grind through.”
Although Craine has not seen a significant jump in her numbers from year one to year two, Kee has been pleased with Craine’s work ethic when she does get playing time.
“When given the ball, she’s making the [most] of her opportunities and as a pitcher that’s not always easy to do,” Kee said. “You never know when you’re going get that ball. It may be to start a game, middle relief, or closing the game.”
While her pitching is a clear asset to the team, Craine’s bubbly personality and dugout dances are one of the first traits that stands out to her teammates.
“She’s a really goofy person,” Elder said. “She can always put a smile on people’s faces even in tough times. She’s a fun person to be around.”
Whether it’s cheering on her team during a game from the dugout or trying to keep the energy high and the attitudes positive, Craine has a one-of-a-kind presence.
Things just wouldn’t be the same at Lovelace Stadium without her.
“I think without her we would be missing a key part of our team,” Underwood said. “She’s the life of the party.”
Featured Image: Sophomore Lauren Craine pitches the ball against Saint Francis. Sara Carpenter